Will Haney and his famous Ferriday nightclub -- Haney's Big House -- return to life in a way not experienced in 50 years with the publication of two 8 x 10 photographs in this week's edition of The Concordia Sentinel.
One photo, labeled "Haney's Big House, Ferriday La., 1956," shows Will Haney standing, four men sitting at the cafe counter, and two men sitting at tables in the background. The other picture, which is labeled "Haney's Nite Club, Ferriday, La." was likely taken a few years earlier and shows Haney along with employees and customers.
Haney's nightclub was established in the 1940s and operated until 1966 when the building, located on the 500 block of 4th Street (now E.E. Wallace Blvd.), was destroyed by a fire which consumed most of the structures on the block. No one was injured in that blaze. Haney, who didn't rebuild, died six years later in 1972 at the age of 76.
The two photographs of Haney's were provided by Gerald Williams of Houston, Tex., who said in an email to The Sentinel that "Willie Haney was a close family friend of my great-uncle and grandmother when I was much younger in the '50s. These photographs were inadvertently handed down to me from them upon their deaths along with other family possessions."
Williams, 63, said his great-uncle was Johnson Polk and his grandmother was Sophronia Polk Strother, both relatives of Haney and both originally from Vidalia.
Williams said he has "no idea of who the people in the photos are," but is "hoping someone there in Ferriday could recognize them" following their publication in The Sentinel.
"I'm glad to contribute this piece of Ferriday history. I couldn't keep something like this under wraps," Williams said.
The Sentinel was contacted by Williams two weeks ago, culminating a six-year search by the newspaper for photos of the club.
Haney was born in 1895, the son of Jim and Emmaline Haney. He and his wife, Lillie, had one child, a daughter, Willie May.
He served as a first sergeant in the Army during World War I. After returning to Concordia, he sold insurance, bought and managed rental property and operated a Laundromat and a motel. But his nightclub was the centerpiece of his business operations.
Started as a barbecue joint, Haney's place soon offered gambling and later, under the Haney's Big House name, the live blues, boogie and R&B of the day. Weekend nights featured live music with hundreds of customers spilling out into the street.
During the Soul Survivors Festival in Ferriday last May, the Mississippi Blues Trail dedicated a Blues Trail marker on the lawn of Ferriday's Delta Music Museum in honor of Haney. The marker includes a photograph of Haney's Big House in flames.
According to Mississippi Blues Trial writer/researcher Scott Baretta: "On many of the projects for the Blues Trail, such as the marker in Ferriday, we conduct research about famous clubs that are remembered by thousands but it's all too often that we can't locate a single photograph. On the one hand, African American cultural expressions and institutions simply weren't highly valued by those who controlled most newspapers, city libraries, historical societies, etc. during the segregation era. And, on the other hand, most of the people who attended Haney's and similar nightclubs were working folks who likely didn't own cameras.
"Locating photos like these helps considerably in efforts to correct the historical record to reflect the importance of institutions like Haney's, as they take it from the provence of increasingly dim memories to something concrete and on par with those institutions that were better documented during their time."
Alex Thomas, Mississippi's Blues Trail director, said Haney's was part of the "Chitlin Circuit," which provided "a stage for a who's who of touring African-American musicians."
Barretta said Haney "provided a structured environment for the blues and helped the music flourish."
He said Ferriday's famous rock-n-roll great Jerry Lee Lewis said that "he found out who was playing at Haney's through the 'Among the Colored' column that appeared in the Concordia Sentinel in the 1940s and the 1950s."
In an issue of The Sentinel in January 1950, Baretta found a note in that column that Frank 'Cole Slaw' Cully and his orchestra would be playing a return engagement at Haney's.
"Culley had a hit with the song 'Cole Slaw' on Atlantic Records in 1949," said Baretta.
Other performers at Haney's included B.B. King, Ray Charles, Little Milton, Roy Brown, Solomon Burke, Percy Mayfield, Big Joe Turner, Johnnie Taylor and Irma Thomas.
Baretta discovered in census records that Haney was listed as a truck driver in 1920 and 1939 to 1953, Baretta said Haney purchased 12 properties, including the Haney's Big House property on 4th Street between Maryland and Carolina in March 1945. Baretta said a lot behind the lounge was purchased in 1943 and may have been the site of Haney's hotel.
Haney and Ferriday shoe shop owner Frank Morris became during their lifetimes the two most prominent African-American businessmen in the history of Concordia Parish. Morris' business in Ferriday, which opened in the 1930s, was located a block and a half north of Haney's. Morris, 51, was killed, and his business reduced to rubble, after white arsonists set fire to his shop during the early morning hours of December 10, 1964.
The fire that destroyed Haney's Big House in 1966 was attributed, according to reports in The Sentinel, to a "faulty ice machine." Yet there was concern that the fire may have been started by the Ku Klux Klan, which had been blamed for the arson of Morris' shop two years earlier. There was also speculation in the black community that Haney may have been targeted because he had housed or planned to house civil rights workers in his motel.
Haney was interviewed about the Morris arson by the FBI on January 21, 1965. According to FBI reports, he told agents he was "both shocked and surprised" that Morris had been killed by the torch of an arsonist, and did not know who was responsible.
Haney was also interviewed by agents concerning the June 1964 disappearance of Joseph Edwards, a 25-year-old Vidalia Shamrock Motel porter. FBI reports indicate that Edwards, a black man, was abducted by three or more white men in front of the bowling alley on the Ferriday-Vidalia Hwy. after his car was stopped by an unmarked police car. He hasn't been seen since.
A local minister told the bureau in 1967 that Concordia Parish Sheriff's Deputy Bill Ogden told him that a short time before Edwards went missing that he had caused a disturbance at Haney's Big House and that deputies were called to the scene. But Haney told agents the story was untrue and that Edwards had not been in the lounge at all.
Haney is buried in the Natchez National Cemetery (Section I, Site 70).
Anyone who can identify any of the individuals in the two photos accompanying this article are asked to contact The Sentinel at 318-747-3646 or email: email@example.com.